The Era of Garden State Upsets

Story posted March 21, 2023 in CommRadio, Sports by Owen Gelber

The state of New Jersey is home to seven Division I basketball programs, but none of Jersey’s teams has been crowned as national champions. But do you know what New Jersey has been crowned in? The state of March Madness bracket busters.

NJIT, Rider, Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth, Rutgers, Saint Peters and Princeton have combined for over 50 NCAA tournament appearances, but only Fairleigh Dickinson, Rutgers, Saint Peters and Princeton have advanced past the first round.

New Jersey currently has the 10th most Division I basketball players in the nation, but only 17 of those players stayed in their home state, a measly 10.12%.

Rutgers is the only Power Five school in the Garden State, spending more than $138 million in athletics alone. In contrast, some of the smaller schools like Saint Peters, Princeton and Saint Peters combined for a basketball budget of $5.7 million.
These smaller schools lack the funding, facilities and recruiting that more prominent basketball schools receive, but does this prevent them from competing? The past two years say no.

The Saint Peter's of Jersey City got the ball rolling for New Jersey in the 2021-2022 season, making their fourth March Madness appearance since 1991. The Peacocks entered the tournament as a 15 seed and headed to Indianapolis to face off against the No. 2 ranked Kentucky Wildcats.

Kentucky, led by forward Oscar Tshiebwe and guard Sahvir Wheeler, went into the first round as -5000 favorites, but Peacock guards Daryl Banks III and Doug Edert showed that the $20.4 million in budget difference was no match for grit and determination, knocking off the Wildcats in overtime 85-79.

Following their victory over Kentucky, the Peacocks, coached by Shaheen Holloway, went on a historic run, appearing in the Elite 8 before falling to North Carolina.

After losing Holloway and a majority of their players to the transfer portal, Saint Peters was unable to clinch a spot in this year’s tournament, but two other local schools rose from the depths to continue this fresh New Jersey legacy of destroying brackets worldwide.

Fairleigh Dickinson of Hackensack entered this year’s tournament as the last seed in the Eastern Region and was set to face Purdue as +10000 underdogs. Over 97% of brackets had Purdue moving on to face the winner of Memphis and FAU, and it made sense considering there’s only been one other 16 seed to knock off a top seed in NCAA history.

Once again, the odds were no match for hard work and confidence. Knights head coach, Tobin Anderson said pregame, “The more I watch Purdue, the more I think we can beat them,” and boy was he right. The Knights held Zach Edey, the Boilermaker’s 7-foot-4 big man to 1.3 fewer points than average, and knocked off Purdue 63-58 in regulation.

Over in the Southern Region, No. 15 Princeton was set to tip off against No. 2 Arizona as +700 underdogs. Some even had Arizona winning it all this year and the confidence surrounding the Wildcats was running rampant. Someone even bet $150,000 for Arizona to win. But what does New Jersey not care about? The odds.

The Princeton Tigers dominated in the paint, out-rebounding and out-blocking the Wildcats through 40 minutes. Arizona nearly tied the game with five seconds to go, but the Tigers held on to win 59-55, their first tournament win since 1998.

“Stop doubting Jersey basketball,” Saint Peters’ Twitter said. “Jersey is just different in March,” Alabama Crimson Tide guard and native of New Jersey, Jahvon Quinerly said. So is New Jersey an underrated basketball state?

F-D-U believe it? I sure do. New Jersey is indeed a basketball state.

Owen Gelber is a first-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email